Speculum

Speculum 86 (1):1-41 (2011)
Abstract
References to mirrors were frequent in medieval texts both theological and literary, and their meanings have been abundantly studied, especially recently. Medieval writers were primarily inspired by St. Paul's famous metaphor in his First Letter to the Corinthians 13.12–13: “Now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face. My knowledge now is partial; then it will be whole, like God's knowledge of me. In a word, there are three things that last forever: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of them all is love.” Mirrors were also likened to art in many texts; and so they have functioned mightily in investigations of visuality. To cite just one medieval text among many, on Mallorca in 1276, Inghetto Contardo defended pictures against a Jew's alleged attack by asserting that “the holy mother Church sets images out as a kind of mirror, so that seeing them with corporal eyes they see them with the eyes of the mind.” The claim here was that physical images, made possible by Christ's incarnation, were available to human senses and could be formed into a complete picture when they were assimilated with a memory of God's true nature. Hildegard of Bingen had already summed up the idea succinctly: “That [faith] Adam had when he saw with bodily eyes the invisible light of God … but after his disobedience, neither Adam nor any other man could have this vision; for that reason, the faithful can gaze at God only with the interior vision of the soul, in the mirror of faith, and trust to be able to be saved with him who can do all things.” Inghetto was also assimilating the ancient trope to new theories of vision being promulgated at the time by Roger Bacon, Robert Grosseteste, and Witelo and in such popular works as Peter of Limoges's Tractatus moralis de oculo, a preacher's manual composed exactly at the time of the Mallorca debate and very widely circulated afterward. In these, the site of seeing was literally a mirror, namely, the “crystalline humor” where God's light, located in the anterior part of the brain, is unified with rays from the eyes into a double vision
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DOI 10.1017/S0038713410003477
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